Dinosaur

on May 19, 2000 by Wade Major
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A skillful blend of old-fashioned Disney storytelling and newfangled computer animation makes for an effective and frequently spectacular summer family film in "Dinosaur," a prehistoric extravaganza about an orphaned dinosaur's coming-of-age.

   Com bining live-action backgrounds (photographed throughout the globe in such exotic locations as Australia, Venezuela, Samoa, Hawaii and Florida as well as California) with computer generated characters, "Dinosaur" creates an astonishingly real setting for its story about an apatosaurus raised by lemurs on a remote island away from dinosaur society. Naming him Aladar (voiced by D.B. Sweeney), the lemurs (Alfre Woodard, Ossie Davis and Max Casella) accept him unselfishly into their midst, a happy arrangement until a massive meteorite storm devastates the planet, washing the island paradise away in a tidal wave and depositing Aladar and his adoptive family onto the barren mainland. There, for the first time, Aladar encounters his own kind--a mournful assortment of herbivores migrating across the wasteland on their way to the fabled "nesting ground" where they will be safe from the clutches of the insatiably carnivorous allosaurs (a meaner, nastier cousin to the tyrannosaurus). Unfortunately, the herd is being led by a stubborn egomaniac named Kron (Samuel E. Wright) who has no sympathy either for the elderly stragglers who keep slowing them down (Joan Plowright and Della Reese) or for the bleeding-heart likes of Aladar, who question his authority. That Aladar also has a thing for Kron's sister Neera (Julianna Margulies) merely exacerbates an already bad situation.

   It's all rather formulaic Disney material, borrowing entire scenes, subplots and character relationships from any number of previous Disney and non-Disney animated features, including last year's "Tarzan" and Don Bluth's 1988 feature "The Land Before Time," whose story "Dinosaur" replicates almost verbatim. What makes the lack of originality just a little more bearable is the caliber of the animation--in many ways more accomplished than either "Toy Story 2" or "Jurassic Park." Technical grievances, however, are sure to be numerous, beginning with the inclusion of lemurs in an era when mammals (particularly simians) were hardly a blip on the evolutionary radar.

   Unlike the "Toy Story" films and "A Bug's Life," which were produced in collaboration with Bay Area animation studio Pixar, "Dinosaur" marks Disney's first effort at producing a computer-animated feature entirely in-house--and judging from the result, it will surely not be the last. Voiced by D.B. Sweeney, Alfre Woodard, Ossie Davis, Max Casella, Hayden Panettiere, Samuel E. Wright, Julianna Margulies and Joan Plowright. Directed by Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton. Written by John Harrison and Robert Nelson Jacobs. Produced by Pam Marsden. A Buena Vista release. Animated. Rated G. Running time: 82 min

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